I was told not too long ago that when I walk into rooms people are pressed against the walls by my massive ego. After first chuckling at this pitiful attempt at a “drag,” I had two thoughts: (1) White men have no room to talk about anyone’s ego when they habitually self-indulge in mediocrity, and (2) Is this what bubbles to the surface of someone’s mind when they see me? I cannot control how people perceive me, nor do I necessarily want to, but I do think that if a person is going to make a statement as obnoxious as the one aforementioned you should bother getting to know me. So, this is for all the people who continue to make grandiose assumptions about who I am. I do not frequently explain myself, because I don’t have to, so be grateful. This is my testimony as a gay Black man at Oberlin College.
If you are curious about what fuels the fire of my strut, why I laugh so loud, and am unapologetically flirtatious the answer is very simple. I love myself. I feel that there are many on this campus that preach about self-love, but you scoff when Black folks love themselves. You’re offended or intimidated by the fact that I am not intimidated by you. Let me take the time to clarify that the you I am referring to is white people, especially white men. I have a genuine question for you: Does it anger you, or at the very least make you uncomfortable, that I love myself? If you immediately answered no I would like to challenge you to think longer and harder about my question. After all, here you are with all this privilege you did not earn, but you were handed. You were conditioned to believe that you are superior to anything and anyone that does not look like you. So who am I, a gay Black boy, to love myself? To think that my life has any value at all when you were taught that your life is all that is valuable in the world. I can see why Black joy would make you sick - even if you refuse to acknowledge it.
I also think it is about damn time you stop saying you are “intimidated” by me. I’ll let you in on a little secret… Black people know what that means. You can try to convince me all you want that it’s because your Meyers-Briggs test results said you were an INTJ, but we all know it’s because of your internalized racism. You have all the social privilege in the world so what exactly are you intimidated by? (That’s a rhetorical question).
When I think about self-love in the context of Blackness, I often think about Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise,” especially when it comes to dating as a gay Black man on Oberlin’s campus. This stanza in particular is my favorite:
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Reading the poem in its entirety, it is not difficult to understand that Angelou is writing about the perseverance of self-love in a Black body. It is no easy task, especially when those around us try so hard to squander our joy with bitter racism. Toxic animosity brews deep within those who would rather see Black bodies hunched over, bearing the weight of insecurity and self-hatred on our shoulders. Our bodies are fetishized. Black submission has always been the kink of white supremacy. To my folks: do not live in the chains of shame so that whiteness can sleep comfortably in mediocrity. If they are pressed against the walls by your confidence, if they cannot breathe because the love you have for yourself is sucking up all the air in the room, remember that it is seldom that our people can breathe. Eric Garner is no longer breathing. Sandra Bland is no longer breathing. Philando Castile is no longer breathing. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Marsha P. Johnson. Emmett Till. Orlando Boldewijn… Our love for ourselves is not about ego. It is about life. If we do not love ourselves then who will? Black love, whether it be for ourselves or for one another, is necessary. Black love is revolutionary.
Poems from the collection \‘The Bluesy Heart of a Black Boy’ by Brian ‘B’ Smith.
I have written two poems. The first being written in a moment of grief upon reading the news on Orlando Boldewijn, and remembering the countless Black lives that did not matter until they stopped breathing.
“A Black Body Is…”
A Black body is a wind chime
Limp and loose,
hanging from a tree.
The soft chimes a mournful cry from the spirit.
Moving only by the push of the wind.
Dangling there from wood.
A Black body is a capsized boat
Abandoned in wading waters
Covered in seaweed and algae
Reclaimed by the earth.
Carried by waves until washed ashore
It is viewed as nothing more than…
A Black body is born a cadaver
Never becoming acquainted with life.
A Black body is Death’s favorite song.
With verses written in blood
The melody our collective cry.
The lyrics of our corpses,
The second is about Black beauty. While this poem was written about a specific individual, I encourage every Black body recognize their beauty.
“Beautiful Black Boy”
Dear beautiful Black boy,
I see heaven in your eyes.
Angels sing in harmonious chorus in your irises.
I see mountains sprouting from your scalp,
Did you know you were the embodiment of earth?
Beautiful Black boy your voice is rough,
Do you carry your past in the thick tendons of your vocal cords?
I don’t know your past,
But I see your future
In the horizon of your smile -
Your laughter is the sunrise
Seeping the nectarine hue of possibility
In the break of dawn.
Beautiful Black boy I can tell you are descended from royalty
Gold fits onto you so perfectly,
Looping into your flesh,
A metaphor for infinity I don’t quite understand.
I want to fall into the daybreak of your mouth,
Taste your sunshine
And trace your past through your tongue.
Black boy, you are beautiful.
Black is beautiful. Black Lives Matter.
Contact opinions editor Brian ‘B’ Smith at email@example.com.